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Not a proud Aussie

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Today is Australia Day. A day that’s really only been celebrated consistently in the last 15 years or so although it was around for most of last century (thanks to Anonymum for passing along this link on the history of Australia Day, an interesting read).

Today I’ve seen a lot of people expressing their Australian pride in various ways, both in the real world and online. Normally I’d be up there among them: I am an Australian in every sense of the word (I was born here, and both of my parents are naturalised Australians, having emigrated from European countries as children).

But today, I am not waving any flags or professing pride in my country. Hell, I’m not even having a barbecue. Today is the first Australia Day where I can honestly say I am not proud of being Australian.

Let me explain why – but first, unlike some other people, I’m not even talking about the rise of this weird “yobbo” pride in the last few years, the goddamn awful Southern Cross tattoos or the “fuck off we’re full” idiots. While the attitudes that these people have is a cause for concern, I don’t think they are the problem.

No, the real problem is the current Australian government and its policies.

Censorship is not the answer

censorship is not the answer

First and most heinous, it was announced late last year that the Rudd government were pushing ahead with their plans for mandatory ISP-level internet filtering, despite less than brilliant results in the official trials and a lot of outcry. A cynical person might point out that the announcement came in the pre-Christmas rush and at a time when news channels were dominated by talks of the Copenhagen climate change talks. Far be it from me to suggest that the government was trying to pull a fast one past the Australian public.

I could talk all day about each of the things that they’re doing and why it’s the stupidest idea ever, but this is not really the place for that. So I’ll quickly summarise for now:

  • mandatory filtering is a massive waste of taxpayers money
  • the filter is technically flawed and will not protect children from accessing refused classification material (the primary stated reason for the policy)
  • the filter is technically flawed and will result in important information being denied to people who might need it, in some cases seriously so – think information about abortion, euthanasia, anorexia, sexually transmitted diseases and drug use to name a few
  • the filter will slow our already ridiculously inadequate network speeds by as much as 40% in some cases
  • the government’s blacklist is secret and it and the complaints system which will be put in place is open to abuse by those organisations and individuals whose agendas involve blocking access to information
  • Senator Conroy has repeatedly stated that only “refused classification” materials will be blocked, and that those things include child pornography, bestiality and sexual violence. But in actual fact, by the very nature of the Australian classification system, anything that hasn’t been presented for classification is classified “RC” – so theoretically, all manner of innocuous and legal items could be blocked under the “RC” banner at the whim of the censors and most Australians will never know about it.

So what can we do about it? The bill has yet to be passed through parliament to make it law (it has yet to be introduced) so if the Coalition and the independents oppose it, it will not become law. So Australians all need to get onto their local Liberals and demand to know what’s what (as far as I am aware, the Liberal party has no official policy as yet on internet filtering).

Electronic Frontiers Australia has a list of ten things that you can do to help. One of EFA’s suggestions is to participate in the Australian Internet Blackout, which this site has done this week as well as my personal blog and our business web site. That’s the black informational overlay that you might see if you visit the actual site (rather than reading this through RSS or Facebook). If you’d like to join in it’s not too late – you just place a small piece of JavaScript on your web site and it takes care of everything. Details on the Internet Blackout site.

The thing is, that most non-geeks don’t really understand what’s going on and as a result they aren’t as concerned as they should be. So the best thing that we can do is educate our non-geek families and friends. That’s why I’m involved with a small group that will be launching a mass-media-friendly campaign shortly.

Apparently, gaming is only for children

gaming is not just for children

Anyone over the age of 18 had better hand in their consoles and PC gaming rigs because according to the Australian government, games are only for children. That’s why they refuse to support an “R” rating for games, instead banning outright anything that doesn’t fit into MA15+ range.

The South Australian Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson, is blocking all attempts to introduce an R18+ rating for games (and due to the quirks of our judicial system, all state attorney-generals must agree in order for the rating to be changed), despite the average of a a gamer being above 30. What’s worse, he’s actually brazenly called adult gamers “criminals”.

That’s not all

There are other issues – for example in South Australia, a law has passed requiring special packaging and other rules for R-rated DVDs displayed for sale or rent. The covers must be black and show only the title – not other text – in small white writing. All R-rated materials must be shelved together. So classic 80’s action flicks are being treated the same way as soft porn and there are so many problems with this that my head is exploding just thinking of it. The bill was introduced by the Family First party and we can bet they’ll be trying similar tactics in other states soon.

All of these issues just show that the Australian government is out of touch with technology and trying to legislate the digital realm the same was as non-digital media.

If we don’t do something about this, we’d better find ourselves a new national anthem because the current one will not be accurate anymore.

“Australians all, let us rejoice
For we are young and free.”

Young, sure. Free, not so much.

17 Comments

  1. Pingback: No censorship in Australia – The Word – According To Me

  2. Excellent article. I linked it from my blog.

  3. You could always move to New Zealand dude.

  4. what happened to the on line petition, it has dropped out of sight. Had link but now its a dud.

  5. Free, not at all, I would say.
    I’m disgusted that Amnesty International aren’t up in arms about this filter, especially given its secret nature. Everybody has a right to know what is being blocked and *why*: otherwise it’s not democratic.

  6. Top notch Kay.
    Keep it up.
    Nev

  7. I agree with everything you’re saying Kay – very well put!

    I would also add the National Broadband Network (NBN) to the list of current embarrassing tech-related policies that the government have. Sure the idea behind the NBN is great, but if they can’t admit their filtering tech is flawed in more ways than one then I don’t hold much hope for the NBN infrastructure to actually deliver what it should. If they don’t deliver WiMAX to regional areas that currently don’t have any broadband (satellite doesn’t count – it’s appalling) then it *won’t be* a “National” Broadband Network (FTTN and FTTH are obviously irrelevant when distance is the limiting factor!).

  8. Hi Kay

    I think it’s a big call that this issue has caused you to be an un-proud Aussie.

    Surely it’s a good idea to make an effort to block all the nasty websites which fuel and grow the child porn industry!

    I agree that it would be very hard to get it to work perfectly but making an effort will at least bring down some of these disfunctional websites. Should we just save our money, sit back and let all these websites go for gold? That’s like saying we shouldn’t waste money on a police force because so much crime goes un-caught.

    I think the censorship is a good idea. The challenge is how censored do we make it. I might say go as far as X but you might say that’s too strict, but if you ask a orthodox religious person no doubt they’d say my stance is too liberal. I think we need to put something in place and set the censorship based on democracy – some sort of vote system. God knows how you’d do it but we need to try.

    Just my 2c.

    Cheers
    Matthew

  9. Matthew – what you have to realise is that only a very tiny proportion of the material they say they are aiming for is distributed via the web. And this is the problem with the government approach (or rather, them being clever) is that to the general person who has no knowledge of the internet, this all sounds great. “Yes, if we block the web sites, no one will have access to it, huzzah”.

    Discounting the fact that it takes all of 5 minutes to set up a proxy to get around this filter, and the fact that the filter does not cover IM, BitTorrent or any number of other protocols, it is a colossal waste of tax payers money.

    Not to mention the lack of transparency of how the filter is run – this is the big issue. Since it’s a public complaint system, what’s to stop a group deliberately targeting a web site or area of information with complaints?

    Who is going to pay for the implementation of the filter on the ISP front – I guarantee that it will be all of us. Then we have to deal with the slowdown, and again, I guarantee that you won’t be getting a discount from your ISP to compensate you. All for a system that will not work.

  10. Matthew, the web is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the nasty things on the internet – there are far worse things going on in via bittorrent, FTP, IM etc but it’s impossible to filter these things and not good PR for the government. Having such an ineffectual filter will lead parents to have a false sense of security and that can only cause more harm than good. Not to mention that it’s a massive waste of taxpayers money and that money could be put to far better use in education and law enforcement.

    However, it is not my mission to try to change pro-censorship views, because I believe that people who share your views are in the minority and not likely to listen to people like me anyway. It’s my mission to reach all the regular Australians who would be horrified to learn of the potential for abuse in the filter system IF they knew about it – and by far, most non-techy people have no idea.

  11. @admin + @ Dave: fare points. I still think that we should be doing something. It’s pretty poor to sit back and wave the ‘people will find a work around’ card. Perhaps even if we block website traffic this may stifle a potential punters initial desire for harmful content. Surely the majority of such people are not web savvy and get into the stuff by dabbling at first. So if we can block easy to reach content distribution channels such as websites we may have an impact in slowing down the growth of the various “industries” for this stuff.

    My point is that we have to do something and I appreciate that there are so many pitfalls however perhaps it will be like virus protection software. The 1st generation of such software was basic and missed a lot but it improved over time. Sure, people are creating and beating virus software all the time but if we had no protection then our online world would be a mess.

    Do you guys have any suggestions for solutions?

    Cheers
    Matthew

  12. The solution is not to try and stop it at the viewing end – while what people who look at this stuff is disgusting and they should suffer the consequences, the ultimate goal lies with catching those who are distributing this content.

    Stopping a small proportion people seeing it does NOT prevent it from happening. Would the money be better spent on federal agencies and giving them access to better equipment and more personnel to actively police these activities. I would much rather the $140m or whatever it will actually end up costing (since when are govt estimates ever right) go the Aussie federal police to expand their operations in catching the people responsible.

  13. Suggestions – absolutely. How about paying for additional law enforcement officers, who can help track down and prosecute the real offenders? Even 5 additional full time federal police dedicated to online crime would cost a fraction of what the filter will cost, and would be far more effective at actually stopping the stuff from getting out there in the first place.

    Then spend some more on a widespread education campaign telling parents how can ensure that their children are safe online. Supervision and education are the asnwer – things like not giving out their personal details, not agreeing to meet with people they meet online and coping with online bullying. Address the real immediate dangers to children online.

  14. Matthew – I should also say, before this dissolves into just one area of the filter….

    Refused Classification (RC) content is NOT necessarily illegal content. This is the big issue here – what the government is talking about is stopping the Australian public from accessing RC information, which includes legitimate topics such as euthanasia, abortion, drug use etc. This is what they do not say in all their bleating from the pulpits, and therefore all the general public associates with RC is child porn, where in fact this is highly untrue.

    Anything that has not been classified by the OLFC technically falls under the banner.

  15. I actually like the southern cross tattoos and intend to get one.
    for me it signifies Australia as a free nation and without the union jack.
    majority of peoples ancestors came on ships using it to navigate, ok a few yobbos in the city might have them and be overly patriotic but the tatt has been around for a long time, just suddenly people seem to take a dis liking to it, I’d prefer a tat that signifies something over one that is just a pile of ink, I’m a country lad and have used it many times to navigate out in the bush at night

  16. Johno, I didn’t mean to cause offence, but the southern cross symbol has unfortunately been hijacked by the racist “fuck off we’re full” and “if you don’t love it, leave” brigade. I’m sure you can find a way to incorporate a southern cross into a tattoo that means something to you without looking like one of those losers – just gotta be creative :)

  17. @ matthew

    please don’t you the name matthew if your posting stupidity, my name was matthew, but now its not because of you.

    frank